Derek Dooley discusses Justin HunterUT head coach Derek Dooley discusses receiver Justin Hunter's status as he comes back from a torn ACL last season.
Tennessee linebacker Jacques Smith on defense
KNOXVILLE -- Curt Maggitt's position is still up for debate.
There's no question, though, that Tennessee intends to use him in a number of ways as a sophomore linebacker.
After playing some defensive end as well as linebacker early in his freshman season, Maggitt is now exclusively a linebacker. Whether he'll play inside or outside in the Volunteers' new 3-4 defense is the new question.
It's not all dependent on him, either.
"I'm trying to learn a few different positions," Maggitt said after Friday morning's practice, UT's 10th of the spring. "That's the main thing -- knowing it mentally and going out there when I get a few reps, being able to do those 100 percent. The tough part is just knowing it and knowing what you've got to do."
He hasn't been able to do it fully in spring practice. The shoulder injury that forced him out of the loss to Kentucky in the season finale required surgery in December, and the 6-foot-3, 232-pound Florida native has practiced in a limited fashion all spring. He didn't scrimmage last week, and it's unlikely he'll scrimmage this afternoon.
"The tough days are when I see [Herman Lathers] and A.J. [Johnson] out there getting too many reps and knowing I could have been out there to sub in for them and make plays with them," said Maggitt, who made the SEC All-Freshman team after tying for third among the Vols in tackles.
Defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri said this week that Maggitt is "working everywhere." He began the spring listed with Lathers at a middle linebacker spot next to classmate Johnson. Sunseri likes his collection of abilities.
"I think his versatility, his athleticism and all that," Sunseri said. "He's a guy that can play behind the ball. He's a guy that can play on the line. He's a guy that can play at the end of the line.
"Curt's a heck of a football player and had a good year last year. We're going to utilize his skills. Whichever situation we're in in a game that I feel we need to use him, we're going to use him."
It could be Lathers' health that ultimately dictates where Maggitt plays. The fifth-year senior is coming off a severe ankle injury that forced him to miss the entire 2011 season, and if he's healthy and good enough to play in the middle, it could open options for Maggitt.
Head coach Derek Dooley said Friday the Vols are going against the grain by making their linebackers interchangeable in efforts of evaluating and slotting guys as they exit spring.
"What makes it a little complex is not having Curt out there full speed in the run game," Doolely said. "That's a little bit of a challenge, and so we're moving parts around. But I think we're getting close to figuring it out.
"I think in this defense, it's really more an inside guy or an outside guy. First it's slotting, 'Are you an inside [or] an outside?' Then, 'If you're outside, where are you?'
At least this spring, Maggitt is dabbling in all of it.
The Vols enter their second spring scrimmage looking for better play from quarterback Tyler Bray. The rising junior's 13-of-32 passing performance in last week's scrimmage has added emphasis to this afternoon.
Bray's accuracy, a shorter deck at receiver and aggressive defense were all factors in last week's struggle.
"When my accuracy gets off, it's my footwork, just dropping back and being lazy," Bray said Friday. "I just need to pick up my tempo, and the team tempo will pick up, too."
Bray said he got a call from his father after last week's scrimmage.
"He was like, 'What was going on? Your numbers were terrible,'" Tyler said. "It's your dad, so you kind of just let it go in one ear and out the other, but he's probably going to watch tomorrow. I'm probably going to get a phone call later. He does it all the time -- I normally hear more about the negative stuff than the positive stuff."
Hunter, Waggner set
Like Maggitt, receiver Justin Hunter and cornerback Prentiss Waggner have been in red jerseys all spring. Unlike Maggitt, though, those two will scrimmage some today. It's a big step for Hunter, the star junior-to-be who continues to recover from a torn ACL suffered early last season.
Hunter said he's looking for "a touchdown and some yards" out of today. He and Waggner, who had offseason shoulder surgery, won't be full-contact. Hunter continues to mentally battle his injury, which he said affects how he cuts.
"The coaches basically just said, 'Justin, get your mindset right and try not to think about your knee,'" he said. "'Just go out there as if you didn't even hurt it.' I think about it more because I'm not cutting on it the way I used to cut on it. I think it's the strength in my knee. I'm not able to push off as fast and as hard as I want to."
Quarterback Nathan Peterman dislocated a finger in his right throwing hand during practice, the football office announced later Friday. The freshman will miss the rest of spring practice, but he's expected to return "without limitation" in time for summer workouts. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound midterm enrollee had drawn praise from coaches this spring.
"He delivers the ball accurately," offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said last week. "He's smart and picks things up. I'm excited about his potential. He can do some things with his feet that the other two [quarterbacks] can't."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...